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Obama's rhetoric meets reality

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama says not all of his campaign promises will happen at pace he wanted
  • President-elect's tone has become more somber as he prepares to take office
  • Obama says, "Everybody is going to have to give" to get things back on track
  • President-elect's priority is getting his economic recovery package passed
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(CNN) -- In style and substance, Barack Obama is looking like he could be a different president than the candidate voters got to know during the campaign.

Barack Obama has taken on a more somber tone as he prepares to take office.

Barack Obama has taken on a more somber tone as he prepares to take office.

His message of changing the country has been replaced by one of repairing the country as he inherits crises that demand immediate action.

"I want to be realistic here," Obama said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace that we had hoped."

During the campaign, Obama stressed fixing the economy as one of his top priorities, but his recent language has taken on an urgent tone.

Obama painted a dire picture of the economy last week, warning that if Congress does not take "dramatic action" on his economic aid package as soon as possible, the nation would face devastating long-term consequences.

"For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse," he said.

It's a far cry from what voters heard from Obama the Democratic candidate, who inspired roaring crowds of thousands by telling them, "This is our moment. This is our time."

But with the economy in a recession and people afraid for their financial future, Obama's soaring campaign rhetoric has given way to grim reality.

And as if the economic crisis weren't enough, Obama has an international crisis awaiting him as well. The president-elect said Sunday that the suffering on both sides of Gaza's borders has led him to ramp up his commitment to working for a peace deal in the Middle East.

These urgent items on Obama's agenda are forcing his team to reconsider some campaign pledges.

Just as soon as he went from presidential hopeful to president-elect, Obama warned the nation of tough times ahead and lowered expectations that he would be the one to solve it all. Video Watch more on the expectations for Obama »

"We know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century," he said on the night of his election victory.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there," he said.

He told voters that change couldn't happen without them, "without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice." He reiterated that same message this weekend, explaining what it's going to take to reform the government.

"Everybody is going to have to give. Everybody is going to have to have some skin in the game," Obama told ABC. What should Obama do first?

Some of the pledges Obama might have to rethink include his proposal to give some homeowners a 10 percent tax credit, an idea that has little support in Congress.

During the campaign, Obama also told voters, "I don't believe in running up debt for the next generation."

But just last week, he acknowledged that the cost of the economic recovery plan he is pushing would be "considerable" and would "certainly add to the budget deficit in the short term."

Obama has not put a price tag on his stimulus package, but observers have estimated it would cost in the neighborhood of $800 billion.

Obama also has proposed repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, but now it's more likely that the president-elect will delay any tax increases on the wealthy until 2011, when the tax cuts expire.

Some of the maneuvering is aimed at attracting Republican support for the incoming president's recovery plan, but that could set up an early battle in the now heavily Democratic Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, is adamant about seeing those tax cuts repealed. What does Obama's presidency mean to you?

Obama says everyone will have to sacrifice, and that includes Congress, too.

Some political observers say the economic crisis that Obama is inheriting is raising the stakes to get a move on his recovery plan -- even if Congress isn't 100 percent behind it.

"This strengthens Barack Obama's hand with the Congress and with the public. It's so urgent, that it's going to be very, very hard, I think, for people who don't like parts of this package to vote against it," said David Gergen, CNN's senior political analyst.


And while the public is well aware of the economic battle ahead, Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins said Obama has little time to wait.

"You've got to have results," Rollins said, "He doesn't have four years to get it done. He has two years. If there's not improvements dramatically in two years, you have a midterm election, and certainly by the second part of this first term, this economy better be moving."

CNN's Jim Acosta, Kristi Keck and Christine Romans contributed to this report

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